Michigan's McGary, Robinson head group who could slip to Pistons at 38
Andy Lyons/Leon Halip (Getty Images)
(Editor's note: Pistons.com starts a five-part draft series with a look at a group of players who most project to go in the late first or early second round, but which could see one among them fall to the Pistons pick at 38 in the second round. Coming Friday: a look at wing shooters who could be available at 38.)
If every team that picks in the top third of the second round in next week's NBA draft later says they came away with a player they rated a first-round talent, it would be utterly believable.
The Pistons felt that way, surely, when they took Kyle Singler with the 33rd pick in 2011. The Houston Rockets, no doubt, believed the same when they landed Chandler Parsons five picks later. And the Golden State Warriors thought they got a steal in 2012 by landing Draymond Green with the 35th pick.
In every draft, when you get past the lottery and into the 20s, the bell curve on consensus opinion covers a wide range of players. The next 20 or so players are tightly bunched by that consensus opinion, but any individual team within the consensus could see stark differences between Player A and Player X.
The Pistons might have taken Singler 10 spots higher than 33, for instance, while another team might not have taken him four or five spots lower.
So don't be surprised late next Thursday night, after the Pistons have exercised their only current pick of the 2014 draft at 38, if Stan Van Gundy smiles and says they drafted a player they considered a first-round talent.
Who might that be?
It could be one of the two University of Michigan products considered fringe first-rounders, Mitch McGary or Glenn Robinson III. It could be one of UCLA teammates Kyle Anderson or Jordan Adams. It could be Missouri's lanky point guard Jordan Clarkson, D-League shooter P.J. Hairston, UConn NCAA title hero Shabazz Napier, Syracuse's hyperathletic Jerami Grant or Wichita State combo forward Cleanthony Early.
You'll find all of them projected in somebody's mock draft as a first-round pick – just as you would have found Singler, Parsons and Green in first-round projections by somebody in recent Junes.
You'll also find question marks accompanying all of them. That's why there's a chance that one of them, perhaps, slips through the cracks and makes it to 38. It always takes an amazing sequence of events to send a good player tumbling, but it happens to somebody virtually every year. The five teams picking ahead of the Pistons could all have the player who eventually goes at 38 on their short list of two or three – but all could, for one reason or another, go in another direction.
Here's a little deeper dive into each of those players projected to go ahead of 38 but who could, if the sequence of events unfolds just so, wind up becoming a Piston.
Mitch McGary – He was projected as a lottery pick after his freshman season at Michigan ended with a thoroughly impressive NCAA tournament run all the way to the season's final night, then suffered a back injury that limited his sophomore season to eight games before undergoing surgery. As this week began, he still hadn't worked out for NBA teams and, as far as most know, has not shared his medical background to allay concerns about the state of his back.
More than the NCAA's roundly criticized year-long ban for a positive marijuana test during the 2014 tournament, it will be the back issue that could plunge McGary into the second round. (Rumors of a first-round guarantee are out there, but good luck determining their authenticity.) At his best, he's a game-changing dynamo who plays with infectious enthusiasm, rebounds at a high rate and passes well out of the high post. Tough to be valued as an “energy” player, though, with lingering questions about a back injury, a killer issue for a big man.
Glenn Robinson III – Robinson is less likely than McGary to slip simply because of his youth (at 20, Robinson is nearly two full years younger than McGary) and high-end athleticism. He flashed a better-than-advertised shooting stroke during drills at May's draft combine and there have been sporadic reports of Robinson continuing to impress during team workouts. He always gets high marks for character and basketball IQ. The questions about him are the long bouts of passive play as a Michigan sophomore, when he fell behind not only Nik Stauskas but Caris LeVert as an offensive option, and the question about his NBA position. He doesn't handle it well enough yet to be a shooting guard and hasn't shown the rebounding chops to be a small forward, even though he played out of position at power forward much of his time at Michigan.
Kyle Anderson – Anderson unfailingly is labeled the draft's most unique player and it's easy to see why. He's a poor man's Magic Johnson, a 6-foot-8 point guard with a standing reach and wing span that puts him in the company of power forwards and centers. He was a highly coveted recruit out of New Jersey who chose UCLA over the usual list of schools that divvy up McDonald's All-Americans, blossoming as a sophomore after taking a back seat to Shabazz Muhammad a year ago. His passing ability is his calling card, along with his feel for the game. How he fits in the NBA is the central issue that could be what causes him to tumble. More specifically: What position does he guard? Ultimately, he probably lands at small forward, yet some teams might decide there's no position where Anderson fits. Others might feel they have enough other versatile players on the roster to accommodate Anderson defensively – in essence, hiding Anderson on a non-scorer and allowing his unique ability at the other end to work to their advantage.
Jordan Adams – One year after taking a shooting guard from Georgia, would the Pistons take another? Adams exceeded expectations in his two seasons at UCLA, overshadowed by both Muhammad and Anderson in his recruiting class. It was his lack of athleticism that tempered projections for Adams coming out of high school and also what makes him a candidate to slide out of the first round despite his elite scoring instincts and abilities. For a Pistons team built around Andre Drummond and in need of perimeter scoring, Adams would appear to hold appeal should he last to 38. He also has youth on his side – Adams won't turn 20 until two weeks after the draft – and the belief that his body still has vast room for improvement once he gets into an NBA-level strength regimen.
Jerami Grant – The son of former Bulls and Magic power forward Horace Grant, the Syracuse sophomore is fairly similar to Michigan's Robinson – a young, extremely athletic small forward prospect who will get drafted more on potential than production. Like Robinson, Grant's elite athleticism makes him perhaps as unlikely as anyone on this list to slide to 38. But in a copycat league, teams picking in the 20s who just watched a San Antonio team more skilled than athletic win the NBA Finals in a rout might focus more on college shooting and production than potential. There just isn't much evidence of Grant's perimeter shooting ability to go on. But if teams believe he can develop that – the way, for instance, San Antonio developed Kawhi Leonard in short order – then Grant has the tools to be an impact player.
Jordan Clarkson – Clarkson told me at the draft combine that the two players he compares himself to are George Hill (for the ability to score at all three levels, though Clarkson noted that he was bigger than Hill) and Russell Westbrook (for his ability to get to the rim and defend all three perimeter positions). If teams agree with that comparison, there's not much chance Clarkson – a Missouri junior who transferred from Tulsa – gets out of the first round. He would figure to intrigue the Pistons for his potential as a 3-point shooter, defensive versatility and size he'd lend to a position where the Pistons are undersized.
P.J. Hairston – After being dismissed by North Carolina, Hairston was terrific in a half-season in the D-League, averaging 22 points and shooting 36 percent from the 3-point arc. That D-League stint really helped rehabilitate Hairston's draft stock – good for him, probably bad for the Pistons' shot of getting him at 38. His size, strength and deep shooting range would give Hairston a great chance to crack the rotation as a rookie. There is always a chance, based on the behavior that caused Hairston to run into trouble at North Carolina, that the teams looking hard at Hairston who pick ahead of the Pistons will pass on him. Then again, Stan Van Gundy has said the Pistons can't afford to make any exceptions on character at this point in their development, either.
Cleanthony Early – It's not like Early was unknown to NBA scouts before Wichita State nearly knocked Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament. But his performance in that round of 32 loss – 31 points on 12 of 17 shooting, including 4 of 6 from the 3-point arc – against a roster as close as it gets to the NBA in terms of size and athleticism opened eyes. Early, a 23-year-old four-year college player, is another who figures to be ready to plug in and play early in his NBA career. He played inside out of necessity at Wichita State but looks like a player who could legitimately play both forward spots in the NBA off the bench, guarding stretch fours without difficulty. You'll hear nothing but good things about his character and competitiveness. He's the type of guy playoff teams picking late in the first round love to snap up, a la Jimmy Butler or Norris Cole.
Shabazz Napier – Before the NCAA tournament, it might have seemed a reach to consider Napier as a realistic candidate for the Pistons at 38. Scouts knew all about him, but he seemed more fringe prospect than anything else. Then he carried UConn to the national title and … well, it doesn't hurt that just three years ago another undersized, score-first point guard named Kemba Walker did the same thing at UConn and has blossomed into a quality starter with Charlotte after a rocky NBA start. Teams are looking at Napier as a quality backup point guard who could change the complexion of a game off the bench. Suddenly, teams picking in the teens are rumored to be enamored with Napier. So falling all the way to 38 now looks unlikely. He might not fit the Pistons, anyway, given the presence of smallish point guards Brandon Jennings, Will Bynum and Peyton Siva already on the roster. But, remember, the first priority in exercising a second-round pick is landing a player good enough to stick in the NBA. Nobody seems to be asking that question of Napier any more.